I’m inspired to think about the concept of an Interspecies Relationship as the center of my work when I see how Jackson, the formerly worried German Shepherd I worked with over the winter, and Lyla, my sensitive and easily troubled filly, built a relationship based on nothing but mutual attraction. I have no idea why these two find each other so interesting, but they do. Lyla always wants to follow him around and groom him like a horse’s instincts tell her to do for a friend, and Jackson will play bow at her in hopes that she knows a bit of doggy play. Sometimes one will become overwhelming to the other, and the differences in their size and species will cause one to retreat, but the separation never lasts long.
This sort of interspecies relationship is built without goals. It centers the seemingly mutual attraction and interest between the two beings and doesn’t seem to be driven by any notions of hierarchy, survival or responsibility. At least none that I can see.
Now a horse human relationship could never be this innocent. The inherent power dynamic between us is too deep, as I have discussed many times on this blog before. Horses rely on humans for their basic needs and we as people should never forget that this great power comes with great responsibility. Yet, I really believe that we can wield this power thoughtfully and that a more graceful approach is to center our interest in relationship rather than riding, not relationship for riding.
Riding is not inherently bad or good. I have no ethical probably with riding horses and personally I find it hugely fun. Beyond satisfaction, riding also provides insight into a relationship and into one’s self, for many reasons, not the least of which is that it leaves both parties vulnerable (the human atop a large animal, the horse beneath a predator). But in this new way of thinking, riding could simply be a side effect of relationship.
Lyla the horse sometimes grooms Jackson the dog. There is so much vulnerability in this moment, Jackson allowing an animal over ten times his size to stand above him and bare her teeth in this loving way, and Lyla putting her face so close to a German Shepherd whose ancestors would have eaten a prey animal like Lyla for dinner. But neither Jackson or Lyla set out with the goal of grooming. It is simply something that comes of a closeness between them. It satisfies Lyla’s urge to be kind to her friends (horses will groom each other in a very reciprocal way). While Jackson is not certain it is a safe idea, his attempt to allow her to demonstrate her affection in a horsey way seems a way to build relationship without forcing her to change into a dog. Just as a horse could let a human demonstrate their affection in our odd ways (riding, grooming, etc) without becoming less of a horse, if we in turn do these things with a mind set of honoring the horse rather than the training.